The Patriots have the opportunity to win their sixth Super Bowl later on today, when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Everything the Pats have worked for over the last seven months culminates tonight in Minneapolis.
Here are a few things to think about entering the big game.
1. TB12 vs the Eagles’ pass rush
How do you stop Tom Brady?
That is a question that has haunted defensive coordinators ever since 2001. Brady has demonstrated an uncanny ability to dissect opposing defenses, but enough pressure in Brady’s face can really derail the Pats offense. This game plan was utilized by the 2007 and 2011 iterations of the New York Giants, along with the 2015 Denver Broncos, and enabled them to beat Brady in the playoffs.
In the AFC Championship Game, the Pats squared off against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who boasted an incredible pass rush (known as ‘Sacksonville’) and the ability to get after the quarterback with only 4 pass rushers. Brady was rattled early on, but eventually got the Patriots back in the game during the 4th quarter. Philadelphia’s defense is similar to Jacksonville’s, as they have athletic pass rushers who can get after TB12. To be successful, the Patriots’ offensive line needs to ensure that Brady has enough time to work his magic an dissect the Eagles’ secondary.
2. Stopping Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount
The Patriots defense has improved against the run as of late, demonstrated by their efforts against two powerhouse backs in Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette (both rushers combined for just around 100 yards). This week their task won’t get any easier as they take on Philly’s incredible duo of running backs. LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi are both familiar foes for the Patriots (as Blount was a longtime Patriot and Ajayi used to play for Miami). Blount’s running style is similar to Derrick Henry’s, as they are both behemoths who prefer to run over their opponents. The Patriots should be able to neutralize him at the line of scrimmage.
However, Jay Ajayi may prove to be a headache for the Pats’ defense, as they have struggled against speedy running backs recently. To be successful, they will need to get past Philly’s dominant offensive line and be physical with Ajayi. One thing that should make the Patriots confident while going up against Ajayi is that he has not had much success against them in the past (totaling 75 yards in 3 games).
3. Making Nick Foles uncomfortable
Nick Foles has been one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the NFL over the last 5 years, with him emerging in Philly back in 2013 and falling off the map in St. Louis in 2014. Foles re-signed with the Eagles in the offseason, and was thrust back into the spotlight when Carson Wentz tore his ACL against the Rams. Foles’ inconsistency has continued this season, with him following up great games with mediocre performances.
Foles had flashes of his 2013 season during the Eagles’ dominant win over the mighty Minnesota Vikings, with him shredding the NFL’s best defense. To be successful, the Patriots will need to get after Foles, and force him to make mistakes while under duress. Knowing Bill Belichick, he will attempt to take away Philly’s rushing attack and make Nick Foles win the game with his arm.
Luckily for the Patriots, Foles has usually followed up his great games with terrible performances. However, Belichick and his staff would have definitely have given Foles the respect he deserves when watching film and crafting their game plan.
4. Unleashing the Gronk!
The Patriots were lucky to win the AFC title game without Gronk playing in the second half due to a concussion. Fortunately for them, he will be ready to go today and wreak havoc against the Eagles. It is impossible to judge Gronk’s importance by just looking at his stats, as his mere presence on the field draws at least 2 defenders, and enables receivers such as Danny Amendola to find holes in the defense. Philly has been mediocre against tight ends this year, which may give Gronk the opportunity to take over the game. Expect #87 to be matched up with safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has been excellent so far this year. If Gronk is able to have a great game, the Pats will have a great chance of fetching their sixth title.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Eagles 21